Lunch In The Ruins
By Ernest Hogan
“I like this place already,” I said when I saw the mural inside the restaurant. It depicted a gang of grinning cartoon pigs, merrily butchering humans who were hanging upside down. Seeing it warmed my heart. “You used to see ones like it in Mexican restaurants on both sides of the border, when I was a kid.”
“Them was the days, ese,” said Victor Theremin who had just called me saying that I had to come see this place. “And you didn’t believe it existed.”
“I swear, I drove past here a few weeks ago and it was just a vacant lot full of broken glass glittering in the sun.”
I got out my iTouch. “I gotta take a picture, put it online. I’ve been looking for one like this for decades”
I took the picture. Something went wrong. AlI I got was a gray rectangle.
“Oh no! Don’t tell me this thing is dying on me! I though it had a full charge.”
“There might be some—er—technical problems here . . .” Victor grinned.
“Not more of your hacker stuff—don’t tell me! I don’t want get mixed up in that!”
“Well, do you want to eat?”
The air did smell like Mexican Restaurant Heaven. I drooled a little. I sat down. There was already a stack of fresh, steaming handmade corn tortillas.
I stopped and said,”The music!”
“It’s an antediluvian Charro Avitia album, where he sings the praises of Villa, Zapata, the .45, and the 30-30.”
“This is just like a being down in Mexico.” I grabbed a hot tortilla, rolled it, dipped it in a terracotta salsa bowl, savored the taste, felt the burn spread to the back of my throat, into my ears, tickling my brain.
I closed my eyes and enjoyed. When I opened them, I noticed a man in full rabbi regalia and woman in a hajib at a table near a window. The window was bright and blurry in strange way—I couldn’t see out of it.
“I can’t believe this place has been within walking distance of my house and I hadn’t noticed it.”
“We all tend to not see what’s around us,’Nesto. That’s why we need each other.”
“There you go guruizing again, Victor.”
“Wait ‘till you see the menu!”
“I’m already in some kind of Nirvana!”
The menu made my mouth water. I gazed in wonder at it a while, then did my usual of ordering shredded beef tacos with beans and rice.
The waitress looked like a Mayan princess. She seemed to have materialized out of nowhere.
“So, Victor,” I asked, “Is there anything besides this wonderful place that had you tear me away from my work?”
“You anywhere near finishing that novel?”
“Are you anywhere near finishing yours?”
“Me neither. It’s hard to work lately.”
“You mean, after the election. Yup, ‘Nesto. Here we are, hanging on for dear life to an America that’s making a skidding, out-of-control turn into a weird new era.”
I nodded. “Hang on to your huevos, carbrones!”
The waitress brought my steaming meal. I was distracted into ecstasy.
“Couldja bring us some more of these chips and this fantastico salsa?’” Victor smacked his lips, and winked.
The waitress winked back, and was gone.
I tried to see where she went, but couldn’t focus. Bright colors were everywhere, but details eluded my gaze.
Then I saw a table full of young women in full adleita regalia: braids, peasant blouses, long, colorful skirts, and antique-looking rifles. They giggled at me.
“What are us Chicano scifiistas to do?” Victor asked, sounding serious, for him.
“I don’t know. This aren’t going to be easy for us under the new president. In past right-wing orgies, it became hard to sell our stuff, and Nueva York doesn’t look any friendlier. I’m giving up on actually making money from this madness.”
“Don’t bullshit me, ‘Nesto. Were you ever in it for dough?”
“The delusion of professionalism did comfort me.”
“So why didn’t you ever write stuff that the global corporate publishing world can sell?”
“Does anybody know what that is?”
I grumbled as I made the last bite of my final taco disappear.
The waitress appeared again, with the chips and salsa that Victor had ordered. Behind her, I saw group of Apache warriors, looking like they escaped from a John Wayne movie.
I did a double take, dipped a chip, and savored the salsa.
“Hey! Is there something in this salsa?”
“It couldn’t be peyote. It tastes too good.”
“Yeah. Peyote tastes like dogshit.”
“How do you know what dogshit tastes like?”
“I was young, stoned, and trying to get laid. Besides, would I do that to you? Especially in the state you’re in.”
“I was fine before I came here.”
“No you weren’t. You were bitching about the election.”
“And why not? Nazis poised to take over the country!”
“So, what are you going to do about it?”
“What are you going to do about it, asshole?”
“I’m going to keep on doing what I’m doing, with extreme prejudice!”
“Be an obscure science fiction writer, publishing in funky venues?”
“But, Victor, what good is that going to do?”
Behind him I saw some cowboys—or rather vaqueros—in old-timey, ornate, Mexican-looking outfits.
“It’ll put our weird ideas in people’s heads. Inspire them. Now that the going is getting tough, they’re going to need us more.”
“That what my wife said.”
“Smart gal, that Emily. You should listen to her.”
In the corner a Mojave family, almost naked except for their tattoos, enjoyed tostadas.
“Dammit, Victor! I’m hallucinating.”
“No, ‘Nesto. Everything you are seeing here is real.”
I waved my arms around. “Then what is all this?”
“More reality than you’re used to. That’s the problem. In order to ‘get along’ in the world, people put up filters, shutting out the reality around them. They need people like us to help them see.”
“Because sci-fi ain’t nothing but mojo misspelled?”
“Something like that.”
As I finished up the last of the bean/rice/salsa residue on my plate, I started to feel good, confident.
People who looked like Aztecs—though their clothing looked more futuristic than authentic—came in, played music and danced. A guy with more feathers on his headdress than the rest held up a large rattlesnake that was alive and awake. The snake’s eyes were hypnotic.
“It’s all so fucking beautiful.” I shed tears of joy.
“Now you’re seeing!”
“We have to keep doing it. All of it. Not just writing, art, culture, but being ourselves! Our outrageous selves!”
“With extreme prejudice,” Victor added. “Even if it gets us in trouble.”
“Hell, we should be trying to get into trouble! To create trouble! Creative trouble!”
“Now you’re talking,’Nesto!”
“Talk isn’t enough! We need action! I have to get back to work!” I stood up and reached for my wallet. “How much do I owe you?”
“Nada.” He held up a strange credit card that glowed with a pulsating light. “I’ve got it.”
I turned to where I remembered a door being.
Suddenly, I was in the middle of that vacant lot full of broken glass that glittered in the sun. The air was full of the sound of sirens, helicopters, and the smell of smoke.Then someone screamed.
“This should be fun,” l said.
2017, The JMLR.